Although the Jewish communities in Morocco and Tunisia may not be as large as they once were, they are bubbling with activity and their leaders are well-respected and dedicated to ensuring their future, according to Valerie Davis Allouche, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) senior program manager for the two North African Jewish communities.
Allouche will give a briefing about issues, trends and developments affecting these two communities at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 24, at Congregation Beth Tefillah, 10636 N. 71st Way, Scottsdale. (Registration is required.)
Today, there are an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 Jews in Morocco and about 1,500 to 2,000 in Tunisia, according to Allouche (who is not related to Beth Tefillah’s Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, as far as they know). According to the World Jewish Congress, the Moroccan Jewish community numbered more than a quarter of a million in 1956, while Tunisia’s Jewish community peaked at 110,000 Jews in the 1950s, according to Haaretz.
But “rather than seeing themselves as communities in decline, we see that these communities are dedicated to building their future and remaining in place,” Allouche wrote via email.
Two examples include a new Jewish Community Center in Casablanca and a new girls school, Kanfei Yonah, being built in Djerba, the island off the coast of Tunisia that has one of the last growing Jewish populations in the Arab world.
Additionally, every year for the High Holidays and pilgrimage festivals, each community draws thousands of Jews with roots in Morocco and Tunisia to celebrate and visit with their family and friends, she said.
Allouche’s connection to Morocco is a deep one, as her mother lived there before moving to the United States.
“It was fortuitous that all these years later, I could pick up that legacy in a meaningful way and reconnect with roots, traditions, wonderful foods that I hold so dear,” she said.
Allouche, who has served in her JDC role for more than three years, is based in Paris and visits each community monthly.
The JDC is a longtime partner to the Jewish communities of Morocco and Tunisia and its work there includes providing aid for its poorest members; ensuring quality Jewish education while maintaining local traditions; and ensuring that community institutions are providing the best quality services and Jewish offerings to strengthen these thriving communities even further, Allouche said.
Both communities have large aging populations, so one of the main challenges is providing high-quality care for the elderly.
“Of course, these communities also face concerns about security, like neighbors, but thankfully the governments of Morocco and Tunisia, like Jewish community leadership, are very proactive in security measures and are doing all they can to protect the safety of Jews,” she said.
The JDC is a long-standing overseas partner of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. In addition to the decades-long relationship between the two agencies, JDC is also a partner in one of the Federation’s three impact areas — supporting Israel and Jewish communities worldwide. (The other two impact areas are engaging the next generation and enriching seniors’ lives, which have a local focus.)
The JDC and the Jewish Agency are the Federation’s two international partners. For 2017, the Federation reported an allocation of $345,000 split evenly between the two organizations.
Among the most important efforts the JDC is involved in are medical care services in Morocco and educational needs in Tunisia, Allouche said.
“Support for these programs — and I must thank the Federation for their core support of this work which enables JDC to be a safety net — is critical to the Jews and Jewish communities of these countries.
“These Jewish communities exist and engage in robust Jewish life and learning, much like their brothers and sisters here in the States,” Allouche added. “By supporting Federation and JDC, they are connected to these wonderfully vibrant Jewish communities who are carrying on ancient traditions and modernizing for today with the special help and warm ties they have to Jews in America.” JN